Does the thought of holding regular family meetings sound appealing to you? Perhaps it seems like one more task on your never-ending to-do list. If part of you resists the idea of incorporating family meetings into your routine, it might be helpful to learn about their advantages and how to run them effectively so that everyone – even the least enthusiastic or most skeptical of family members – can benefit.
What Are the Merits of family Meetings?
According to child psychologist Sarah Conway: “The family meeting is an opportunity to address the everyday difficulties that arise within a family while also reinforcing your family values and living out your family mission statement. They are great opportunities for learning and growth for both adults and children. And they can provide a safe space for children to make mistakes, practice skills, and explore their own ideas and beliefs.”
Family meetings can be advantageous to a husband and wife even if they don’t have children. A couple’s relationship is likely to improve if they regularly dedicate a chunk of time to discussing important issues in a calm, caring, mindful environment. So often, spouses approach each other with problems or requests at a time that is inconvenient or stressful. People who are busy or distracted cannot give their full attention to their spouse and they often answer in a way they would not if they had more time to think. A scheduled weekly meeting is the perfect time for both parties to bring up their concerns, plans, and important topics.
When children are involved in the family meetings, they can learn many valuable life skills. Conway says: “And there are so many important skills children get the chance to learn and practice during a family meeting: listening to others, communicating respectfully, managing differences and resolving conflicts, problem solving and even empathy. They are a fantastic opportunity to build resilience and strengthen connections and they can significantly reduce conflict within a family when they occur regularly.”
How Do You Run a Family Meeting Effectively?
- Set your intention. Begin each meeting with “Bismillah” and try to carry it out for the sake of Allah with the best adab (manners). Each participant should aim to behave with a positive, loving attitude. After all, a family meeting is one way to show dedication and care to the people closest to you, and God willing, your good intentions will be rewarded.
- Agree on some ground rules. Together, decide when and where meetings will be held, who will participate, and how long they will last (hint: it is better to keep the meetings relatively short). Meetings will be particularly effective if you keep in mind the Prophetic etiquette for communicating with others (detailed below).
- Always start on a positive note. Kick things off with a quick game, or take turns giving compliments to each other, or have everyone share a favorite memory.
- Open the floor to people’s concerns. If several problems need to be addressed, try to tackle only one or two per meeting. Prioritize which issues need to be settled immediately, and which can be deferred to the following week. If one person’s topic requires a particularly lengthy or personal discussion, it might be best to dedicate a separate time for it. A family meeting should be inclusive of all members and not dominated by one individual.
- Allow all participants to speak. Listen without interrupting others or dismissing their concerns. Family meetings are not the time to be dictatorial. The environment should be as attentive, positive, and relaxed as possible.
- If needed, have an agenda for the upcoming family meeting. If, during the week, a family member raises a concern or complaint that needs careful consideration, put it on the agenda for the upcoming family meeting. This has a few advantages:
- The person knows you are taking their concern seriously and will address it.
- At the meeting, you will have time to listen patiently to their story and give a measured, thoughtful response.
- If it is a minor problem, it may have resolved itself naturally by the time the meeting arrives.
- When problem solving, listen respectfully to everyone’s suggestions. It is true that parents have ultimate decision-making power, but they can and should be open to their children’s ideas. A child will be more likely to follow through with a plan if he or she has had some say in it. Besides, kids can often surprise us with their ingenuity and creativity.
- Set some goals. What was resolved in today’s meeting? What actions will each family member take to make positive changes, or to fix the problem? Write a brief action plan with the intention of checking on your progress the following week.
- Finish with a du’a and some loving gestures. Even if the family meeting brought forth some heated feelings or frustration, try to end on a good note. Circle back to your intention – pleasing Allah – and ask Him to ease your affairs and put baraka in your life. End the meeting with hugs or other signs of affection for each other.
Use Our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as Your Role Model
It is significant to note that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) exemplified the very same skillful communication we will need to use if we wish to hold successful meetings. When interacting with others, he would consistently demonstrate certain techniques. He would:
- turn his whole body to face the person who was speaking.
- listen without interrupting.
- maintain eye contact.
- listen with empathy and not jump to quick conclusions or judgment.
- hear both sides of an argument before he made a decision.
- ask questions, if clarification is needed, instead of assuming what the speaker meant.
- listen respectfully to everyone, regardless of their age, gender, or status.
- be willing to learn from others’ experiences.
- be patient, kind, and gentle.
Structured, regular meetings can help families enhance their love for one another, resolve issues, and increase communication. When done for the sake of Allah, they can also be full of baraka. The ideas above can serve as a template for your family, but with time and experience, you might decide to tweak it to suit your needs. Once you give family meetings a try, you will likely find more tranquility and success in your relationships, God willing.